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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 2 - Renaissance moves North

  What will we be learning in this unit?

  • Which artists brought the Renaissance to northern Europe?
  • What themes did humanist thinkers and other writers explore?
  • What impact did the printing revolution have on Europe?


Artist of the Northern Renaissance

  • The northern Renaissance began in the prosperous cities of Flanders, a region that included parts of present-day northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Spain, France, Germany, and England enjoyed their great cultural rebirth 100 years later, in the 1500s.


Artist of the Northern Renaissance

 

  • Albrecht D¼rer traveled to Italy in 1494 to study the techniques of the Italian masters. Returning home, he employed these methods in paintings and, especially, in engravings. In this form of art, an artist etches a design on a metal plate with acid. The artist then uses the plate to make prints. Many of D¼rer's engravings portray the religious upheaval of his age. 
  • Through his art as well as through essays, D¼rer helped to spread Italian Renaissance ideas in his homeland. Because of his wide-ranging interests, which extended far beyond art, he is sometimes called the "German Leonardo."


Artist of the Northern Renaissance

  • Among the many artists of Flanders in the 1400s, Jan and Hubert van Eyck stand out. Their portrayals of townspeople as well as religious scenes abound in rich, realistic details. The van Eycks also developed oil paint. Northern artists used this new medium to produce strong colors and a hard surface that could survive the centuries. 
  • In the 1500s, Pieter Bruegel used vibrant colors to portray lively scenes of peasant life. Bruegel's work influenced later Flemish artists, who painted scenes of daily life rather than religious or classical themes. 
  • In the 1600s, Peter Paul Rubens blended the realistic tradition of Flemish painters like Bruegel with the classical themes and artistic freedom of the Italian Renaissance. Many of his enormous paintings portray pagan figures from the classical past. 


Northern Humanists

 

  • Like Italian humanists, northern European humanist scholars stressed education and classical learning. At the same time, they emphasized religious themes. They believed that the revival of ancient learning should be used to bring about religious and moral reform. 
  • The great Dutch priest and humanist Desiderius Erasmus used his knowledge of classical languages to produce a new Greek edition of the New Testament. He also called for a translation of the Bible into the vernacular, or everyday language of ordinary people. He scorned "those who are unwilling that Holy Scripture, translated into the vernacular, be read by the uneducated .. as if the strength of the Christian religion consisted in the ignorance of it."


Northern Humanists

  • To Erasmus, an individual's chief duties were to be open-minded and of good will toward others. As a priest, he was disturbed by corruption in the Church and called for reform. In The Praise of Folly, Erasmus uses humor to expose the ignorant and immoral behavior of many people of his day, including the clergy. 
  • More  Erasmus's friend, the English humanist Thomas More, also pressed for social reform. In Utopia, More describes an ideal society in which men and women live in peace and harmony. No one is idle, all are educated, and justice is used to end crime rather than to eliminate the criminal. Today, the word utopian has come to describe any ideal society.


Writers for a new audience

 

  • Scholars like More and Erasmus wrote mostly in Latin. In northern towns and cities, the growing middle class demanded new works in the vernacular. This audience particularly enjoyed dramatic tales and earthy comedies. 
  • The French humanist Franois Rabelais had a varied career as a monk, physician, Greek scholar, and author. In Gargantua and Pantagruel, he chronicles the adventures of two gentle giants. On the surface, the novel is a comic tale of travel and war. But Rabelais uses his characters to offer opinions on religion, education, and other serious subjects.


 Writers for a new audience

  • The towering figure of Renaissance literature was the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare. Between 1590 and 1613, he wrote 37 plays that are still performed around the world. 
  • Shakespeare's comedies, such as Twelfth Night, laugh at the follies of young people in love. His history plays, such as Richard III, depict the power struggles of English kings. His tragedies show people crushed by powerful forces or their own weaknesses. In Romeo and Juliet, two teenagers fall victim to an old family feud. 
  • Shakespeare's love of words vastly enriched the English language. More than 1,700 words appeared for the first time in his works, including bedroom, lonely, generous, gloomy, heartsick, hurry, and sneak.


Writers for a new audience

  • The Renaissance in Spain in the early 1600s also led to the production of great works. Best known is Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, an entertaining tale that mocks romantic notions of medieval chivalry. The novel follows the adventures of Don Quixote, a foolish but idealistic knight, and Sancho Panza, his faithful servant.


 Printing Revolution

  • In 1456, Johann Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany, printed the first complete edition of the Bible using the first printing press and printing inks in the West. Within twenty years, the development of movable type made book production even easier. A printing revolution had begun that would transform Europe. By 1500, more than 20 million volumes had been printed.
  • Gutenberg and his successors built on earlier advances. Methods of making paper had reached Europe from China about 1300. The Chinese and Koreans had been using movable metal type for centuries, although Europeans may have developed their technology independently.


Printing Revolution

  • The printing revolution brought immense changes. Printed books were cheaper and easier to produce than hand-copied works. With books more readily available, more people learned to read. Readers gained access to a broad range of knowledge, from medicine and law to astrology and mining. Printed books exposed educated Europeans to new ideas, greatly expanding their horizons. As you will read, the new presses would contribute to the religious turmoil that engulfed Europe in the 1500s.